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Auburn has ‘a lot of work to be done’ at receiver as passing game takes shape under Hugh Freeze 3/24/2023 Tom Green,

Marcus Davis presented a word of the day to his wide receiver room earlier this week: Consistency.

It’s one he wants his players to focus on during the back half of spring practices, as the Tigers’ wide receivers haven’t quite been up to par during this first set of practices under new head coach Hugh Freeze.

“The biggest thing is doing the little things better and staying consistent,” Davis said. “…Never get too high. Never get too low. Just stay right in the middle. And I tell them all the time: The difference between good and great — because everybody wants to be great — is doing good consistently. That’s how you become great at whatever it may be.”

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Before Auburn’s receivers can be great, though, they must first be good, and midway through spring practices, Freeze made it abundantly clear that the Tigers’ passing game is very much a work in progress. While Freeze expressed concerns about the progress of the quarterbacks — conceding that he and offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery may need a different approach to how they teach their system — it wasn’t the sole source of his uneasiness entering Week 3 of spring practices. Auburn’s wide receivers, Freeze said, also “have a long way to go” when it comes to what the Tigers want to accomplish offensively.

“Not saying we’ve arrived at other spots yet, but those are the farthest off because they’re probably the most — we ask them to do the most, truthfully,” Freeze said. “It’s brand new to them…. We’re very, very raw at that right now.”

Auburn’s wide receiver room returns just two players who had double-digit receptions last season, Ja’Varrius Johnson and Koy Moore, and while there is a wealth of younger guys who contributed last season and a transfer addition in former Cincinnati receiver Nick Mardner, it’s a group that is still relatively unproven. It’s also one that has been hampered by injuries to varying degrees this spring, most notably a collarbone injury that will sideline Malcolm Johnson Jr. the remainder of the spring.

Ja’Varrius Johnson led Auburn with 493 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 26 receptions. Moore, the former LSU transfer was second on the team with 314 yards and a score on 20 catches. The next leading returning receiver was Camden Brown, who had nine catches for 123 yards and a pair of touchdowns as a true freshman but was the team’s seventh-leading pass-catcher in an offense that struggled to move the ball through the air (119th nationally in passing yards per game and 117th in passing efficiency).

There is no certified go-to receiver yet among the group, though it’s still early and the Tigers have five-plus months before their first game. For now, though, the focus is on making sure Auburn’s wide receivers understand what is asked of them in Freeze and Montgomery’s offense.

An adjustment period and learning curve are to be expected any time a new offense is installed. As Freeze said, this is all new to Auburn’s wide receivers after running more of a pro-style system under former coach Bryan Harsin. Along with the consistency aspect, the biggest issue for the Tigers’ receivers boils down to situational understanding within the offense: Which RPOs should be run based on the defensive coverage, and how to properly create separation based on the technique a defensive back is playing.

“Getting the guys used to playing with tempo, playing fast — it’s just the little things right now, as you continue to learn and progress as far as the offense goes,” Davis said. “…It’s just getting those guys to practice to the expectation and play to the expectation. But the best thing about the group is that they’re buying in, they’re hungry and all of them want to do right. So, it’s just continuing to teach them the ‘how’ part of it.”

It was a similar refrain to the one Freeze expressed when discussing the quarterback position. It’s not a matter of a lack of want-to or even ability; it’s just a process that is going to take some time. That is, after all, what spring practices are for.

It all comes back to that word of the day from Davis: consistency.

So long as Auburn’s receivers continue to focus on the finer details and maintain a consistent approach throughout the remainder of spring — and carry that through the offseason — Davis is confident they’ll get to where they need to be in due time.

“I feel good about the progress we’ve made so far,” Davis said. “And obviously, there’s a lot of work to be done as well.”

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

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